Platform – to have or have not?

Melissa asked a good question on a previous post that I felt needed a revisit. It’s about platforms. No, not those goofy shoes that the beagle insists makes her legs look longer, but author platforms:

One of things I heard at the conference was the importance of a platform/established audience, even for fiction. When I mentioned that on a writers’ forum after the conference, they said I was nuts. :-) I realize you do little fiction, but what’s your opinion?

Opinions on the need for a platform vary depending on who you talk to. Unless the writers forum is made up of agents and editors, their advice may be ill-informed. I’ve even heard established writers poo-poo the platform notion. Easy words for the already-established. But for the debut author who lacks an established readership, the reality train is more likely to slap them upside the head.

Agents and editors agree that a bigger footprint sells books. Plain and simple. Publishing has changed over the years. With the plethora of books from vanity presses and POD presses, authors are finding it harder for their particular cream to rise to the top. That’s why agents and editors have gotten so choosy over the years.

In this media-driven society, the obscure writer has a harder time getting noticed.   Hello, Mr. Platform.

Nonfiction

It’s common knowledge that nonfiction authors really need to have a platform because it’s what makes readers decide that your book is worthy. If, for example, you write about bipolar disorder or divorce, you need to be an informed source. An expert. It’s important that to convince potential readers that you are the best person to have written the book because the first thing that enters their mind is, “why should I believe you?”

Your platform speaks volumes.

If you sit at home collecting chocolate bar wrappers and get the bright idea to write about the mating cycle of yaks on crack, agents and editors won’t take you  seriously because we know you’re not an expert. You aren’t a reliable source, and we know readers editors will run in the opposite direction.

Fiction

It’s hard to have a platform for a novel because, well, it’s a made-up world. How does one create a platform when one writes romance or SF – and one is a debut author without an established readership? It’s great to get the book on the shelf, but it’s gotta sell or they come right on back to the publisher. And that fact is across the board – from the big guys to the little spuds.

This is where the smart author considers how to create a bigger footprint, via their platform. I covered this is a post I wrote a while ago – two surfer dudes.

Life is easier for those who write what they know – the detective who write cop books, the doc who write medical fiction, etc. – because their platforms make their stories unimpeachable because they wrote what they know. They are an expert – just like the nonfiction writer.

Regardless of what you write, look at it this way; if I have two books I love and one author has a great platform and the other doesn’t, whom do you think I’m going to offer a contract to?

This is no longer a world of recluse authors. Publishing has evolved into a world where we’re selling not only the book, but the author as well. “What is the author’s platform,  what are they doing to promote the book?” are the first questions genre buyers ask. You can either stick your fingers  in your ears and scream, “lalalalala” or you can embrace the realities of publishing and make yourself a bigger target.

And really,  is there anything sweeter than an author with a big fat bull’s eye painted on their forehead?

4 Responses to Platform – to have or have not?

  1. NinjaFingers says:

    And if even stage fright prone me can accept that readings and signings are essential…

  2. Melissa says:

    Thanks, Lynn — I starred this in my reader.

    One of the authors on the forum (who is indeed established) argued that time spent trying to establish an audience before the book sold is time that could be spent working on the next book — and it’s time that’s wasted if the first book doesn’t sell.

    I see her point, but I don’t think I agree unless the next book is so wildly dissimilar to the first (romance after the first was hard-core sci-fi, for example) that the audiences don’t overlap. If there’s overlap, then all you’re doing is beginning the promotion work that you’ll have to take time out of writing to do later regardless. And if it could make the difference between selling and not selling, it sounds like it’s worth the time to me.

  3. […] Behler Blog: Platform-to have or have not? […]

  4. An interesting persepctive. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this issue. The amount of advice out there on whether to have a platform, what the platform should look like, and how useful a platform is can sometimes be overwhelming and a lot of it is conflicting.

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